Court filings show prosecutors rejected Robert Bowers’ plea offer for life in prison
Federal prosecutors rejected an offer from accused Tree of Life synagogue gunman Robert Bowers to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison, according to court documents filed Tuesday in federal court.
Defense attorneys for Bowers have said from the beginning they hope to resolve the charges without going to trial. He is accused of killing 11 worshippers and injuring a half-dozen other people, including four police officers.
Bowers’ attorneys noted the government’s rejection of a plea deal in filings entered in response to prosecutors’ push to set a trial date.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the recent filings.
Prosecutors in the case last month filed a motion asking the judge to intervene and force the defense to agree to a schedule. The proposed draft schedule would have jury selection for Bowers, who faces 63 federal charges and the death penalty, begin Sept. 14, 2020.
Defense counsel — which includes Judy Clarke and public defenders Elisa Long and Michael Novara — wrote in response to the draft schedule that such a timeline is “unrealistic” and fails to account for “the time-consuming work of investigating and presenting the history and background of a person on trial for his life,” as well as the slew of legal issues that comes in the lead-up to the trial.
Defense attorneys also noted that jury selection Sept. 14 would place the trial during the Jewish High Holy Days and put a possible penalty phase, where jurors would decide whether Bowers would be put to death, near the time of the second-year mark of the Oct. 27 shooting.
Bowers is accused of opening fire on Shabbat services at the synagogue, which housed the congregations Tree of Life or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light.
Prosecutors argued in their initial filing that the victims of the Oct. 27 attack deserve timely justice.
Defense attorneys responded by noting the judge should consider “that this case would already be over” if attorneys had accepted Bowers’ offer to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison with no chance of parole.
“Instead, and against the publicly expressed request of two of the congregations to resolve this case without a trial, the government has insisted on pursuing the death penalty,” the defense team wrote.
Leaders of congregations Dor Hadash and New Light had previously called on Attorney General William Barr to keep the death penalty off the table in hopes of forgoing the trauma of a drawn-out trial.
Defense attorneys also argued that the proposed trial schedule would put proceedings at the tail end of the 2020 presidential election, in which they predicted Pennsylvania will likely be a battleground state.
“(Donald Trump) — having already publicly called for our client’s execution — may be expected to politicize this case again” and pollute the potential jury pool, Bowers’ attorneys wrote.
Defense counsel proposed their own potential deadlines, noting that they continue to wrestle with discovering issues with prosecutors. Their proposed deadlines include filing all discovery motions and an Aug. 10 status conference to set future dates for resolving other issues, including venue, jury selection and jury instructions.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .